Managing Up Phrases

Just as you can get better results by using effective management practices with the people who report to you, you can also get better results by using the right practices with your own manager. One key to doing that is to focus on making the pieces of your relationship that you control as transparent and emotionally intelligent as possible.

Here are some emotionally intelligent phrases and techniques for some common situations you might encounter.

If your manager frequently cancels meetings with you…

You could:

  • Say, “I know you’re really busy – but can I talk to your assistant and get 10 minutes on your calendar?”
  • Consider asking to move your check-in to a time they are less likely to cancel.
  • Send an agenda to your manager ahead of time as a reminder of the meeting and to demonstrate respectful use of their time with pressing issues.
  • Anticipate that they’re likely to cancel your meeting tomorrow and, as a safety measure, grab them for two minutes to ask your most pressing question.

If your manager doesn’t get back to you about work you send them for input/approval…

You could:

  • Say, “I know you get a ton of emails and documents for review. Is there a way for me to make it easier for you to give input? I was thinking it might be easier to review if I brought it to our meetings, or maybe there’s some of it that I can move forward with on my own.”

If your manager rarely answers your emails…

You could:

  • Find ways other than email to communicate with them, such as saving items up for in-person conversations, or leaving a voicemail explaining how you plan to move forward if you don’t hear from them by the end of the week.
  • Think about ways to word your emails so it’s easier for your manager to give input with a quick yes/no.
  • Suggest a coding system for your emails that quickly differentiates between FYIs, urgent requests, and “when you get a chance” input.

If your manager changes their mind after decisions have been made…

You could:

  • Make a point of talking through all the pros and cons before decisions are made, especially pointing out potential downsides so they’re thoroughly considered before work moves forward.
  • Send your manager a repeat-back email to ensure you’re on the same page and to remind them of what you decided on.

If your manager gives you more and more work when your plate is already full…

You could:

  • Say, “I want to make sure I’m prioritizing correctly. Here are my thoughts on what I should work on now and what will be on the back burner.”
  • Consider adding a “back burner/not getting to yet” section for your check-in agenda to alert your manager to your workload and to note that while you may not be getting to every item yet, you haven’t forgotten about them.

If your manager often seems to be on a different page than you, and you don’t communicate well…

You could:

  • Go through the 5 W’s, asking questions to ensure you know what success looks like.
  • Share slices frequently, and ask questions around why your manager likes or dislikes those work samples.

If your manager doesn’t give you feedback…

You could:

  • Add a debriefing section to your check-in agenda. Do some self-reflection on projects and let your manager know what you thought went well and not as well on the project. (You’ll end up creating a space for a feedback discussion.)
  • Rather than asking for feedback, which can be a stressful or loaded term, consider asking for coaching on a skill or ask, “What do you think could have gone better?”